Some of the best memories I have of my childhood are at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park. My family stayed at ones in Traverse City, MI, Silver Lake, MI, and Cherokee, NC during summer vacations. There were activities to keep my four sisters and me preoccupied while having fun at the same time. From swimming to putt-putt, characters to karaoke, Jellystone Park was incredibly family-friendly.
Although my son is very much a “city boy”, camping is one memory that I wanted to recreate with him. Unfortunately, the nearest Jellystone Park is in Colorado, however we chose KOA Flagstaff for our first family camping trip.
I went to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff for college, so Flagstaff will always have a special spot in my heart. It reminds me of my home state of Michigan, only that it has mountains, and it is only a three-hour drive from Phoenix. In fact, Flagstaff averages 100 inches of snow annually, making it one of the snowiest cities in the US…and it is in Arizona, believe it or not!
Packing and preparing for the trip took work, especially since we had to get the basics. First step, the tent. We ended up buying a 10-person tent for the three of us and didn’t realize that a 10-person tent really means a 10-person tent! It was practically the size of a small apartment. We also packed an air mattress (although as a child we would sleep in a sleeping bag on the tent’s ground), sheets, pillows, comforters, a cooler with snacks (including Lunchables) and drinks, the stroller, sunblock, bug spray, and toys. We bought supplies for a fire as well, however due to the dryness and fire advisories, wood campfires were off-limits.
In addition to camping supplies, we packed a variety of clothes, hoodies, shoes, and flip-flops (don’t forget a pair if you plan on showering in the community showers). We packed our items in recyclable bags to make it easier to carry from the car to the tent, and so we wouldn’t have to drag the wheels of luggage in the dirt before going in the tent.
When the day came, we packed up the car, including my son’s iPad to keep him entertained, and headed up-north to get away from the 110 degree temperatures. Since we left in the evening, we stayed in a hotel for the first night so we could set up the tent in the morning and start our adventure.
We arrived at KOA Flagstaff on the east side of town and set up our site. After the tent was set up, dark clouds appeared overhead and it rained. It was amazing to see rain since we aren’t used to it in the Valley. We headed over to create t-shirts to make time go by a bit, then stayed in the tent to stay dry. Since there were no campfires allowed (yet, we did rent a propane fire), we ended up going into town for food.
There is a hidden restaurant, downstairs from clothing stores, called Barefoot BBQ, and if you are ever in Flagstaff, this is the must-go-to food place! The cornbread and BBQ sauce are to die for! I enjoyed a Junkyard Dawg, sweet potato fries, and honey cornbread.
While we were in Flagstaff over the next day, we went back to town to explore and reminisce college days since it was oddly hot, making it too hot to stay outside or be in the tent. We went to the Sweet Shoppe Candy Store and had gelato, where we learned they buy their gelato from an Italian couple from Michigan. I was in awe seeing Mackinac Island Fudge and it tasted amazing!
We also stumbled upon a long line (about an hour wait) for a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Diablo Burger, which was located in the back of a building. The restaurant is known for having local foods-based burgers. The Big Daddy Kane was amazing, along with the db frites!
Afterwards, we headed back to the campground and made s’mores over the propane fire as our 3-year-old entertained us by singing and playing his guitar until he fell asleep. Although the weather didn’t cooperate with us on our trip, we created memories and will be prepared for our next camping trip!